— FEATURED —
— FOLLOW US —
— POLICIES —
Except where indicated, Boing Boing is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution
— FONTS —
Today, on Twitter, I learned something new and interesting from environmental reporter Paul Voosen. Over the years, I've run into reports (like this one from the Union of Concerned Scientists) showing that genetically modified crops — i.e. Roundup Ready corn and soybeans, which is really the stuff we're talking about most of the time in these situations — don't increase intrinsic yields of those crops. But I've also seen decent-looking data that seemed to suggest exactly the opposite. So what gives?
Turns out, this is largely an issue of terminology.
I've been live-tweeting today from the Aspen Environmental Forums. But in a session this morning, I noticed that my friend Rachel Weidinger—director for the ocean advocacy group Upwell—had a far niftier way of taking notes and communicating what she was learning. While I opened up my iPad, Rachel opened up a full set of watercolor paints.
What she produced was something more akin to illuminated manuscripts than paintings—collections of short quotes and key ideas, done up in vibrant colors and surrounded by thematic doodles. It's great stuff, and a really interesting way to process and present information.
Rachel was kind enough to let me post her notes here. This page comes from the panel we attended this morning, all about climate change and the long-term impacts those changes are likely to have on regional weather. Check out more of her illuminated notes at Flickr.
What is a flame?
If you can explain that, on a level that an 11-year-old can understand, then you could win a VIP pass to the World Science Festival, May 30 to June 3 in New York City.
This is one of those questions that is harder to answer than it first appears. Alan Alda, the man behind this contest, asked his teacher that question when he was 11. Her answer, "It’s oxidation," meant nothing to him. So this contest isn't just about accuracy, it's about communication.
I often hear people complain about journalists and science popularizers "dumbing down" the science. And I suppose that's something reasonable to complain about, if what you mean is that those people are getting the science grossly wrong.
But that's not usually what "dumbing down" means. In fact, most of the time, when somebody is complaining about a dumbing down of anything, I've found that what they mean is that the topic has been made accessible and entertaining to a broad audience. Dumbing down means taking the information beyond the experts and enthusiasts, and convincing people that this is a topic they should be interested in. That's not a bad thing. It just means that there are different ways to reach different people with the same information.
To me, that's what this contest is about. Explain a flame—without using jargon—and make the science behind it capture a kid's imagination. That's not easy. It will take some dumbing down. But I think some of you can do this. And I'm excited to see the results.
Entries can be turned in as text, video, audio, or graphics. But they're due by April 2, so get to work!
Via Lauren Wolf
How do you define "aerosol", or "manipulation"? What about "organic", "mutant" and "confidence"?
The truth is that scientists often say words that do not mean what the general public thinks they mean. And that's a problem. If you're not speaking the same language, miscommunication is inevitable. There's a new paper up in Physics Today, which argues that it's the responsibility of all scientists to think about the colloquial meanings of words and talk in a way the public can understand.
But here's the first step: Making it clear to scientists which words cause communication problems. You can see the list from the Physics Today paper above. Meanwhile, the Southern Fried Science blog has added to the collection, and Southern Fried Science blogger Andrew Thaler is looking for more suggestions. You can add words that you think scientists and public use differently to Thaler's Google Docs spreadsheet. If you've got a good alternative for a confusing word, add that, too.
Via Mountain Beltway